Tony Cummings pays tribute to gospel and R&B singer LAVINE HUDSON
The sad news that Lavine Hudson died on Thursday, 6th April failed to get much, if any, media attention. Yet for a period in the late '80s Lavine was British gospel music's premier star and the act that music industry observers predicted would one day become "Christian music's answer to Whitney Houston". Yet despite major label albums, a hit on America's R&B chart, regular TV appearances and a large number of pop stars admiring Lavine's richly soulful vocals, stardom remained just out of reach for the hugely talented singer and songwriter.
Lavine was one of six children born in the 1960s to Pastor Austin and Elaine Hudson. She first sang solo in church at the age of seven and perfected her gift in her father's COGIC congregation in Stockwell, London. She grew up listening to the music of Aretha Franklin, Andrae Crouch and the Clark Sisters. Then, at the tender age of 14 she joined The Harmonisers, the group formed in the early '60s by Icilda Cameron and who by the early '70s were well-established on Britain's growing Afro-Caribbean church scene, even recording an independent album in 1971. By 1979 The Harmonisers had a new lineup with three singers and a bunch of instrumental accompanists. One of those singers was Lavine Hudson, together with Angela Henriques and June Blake. The group were signed to Pilgrim Records (achieving Christian bookshop success with acts like Mary McKee & The Genesis and Parchment but who had no experience in black gospel). As it turned out the deal didn't go too far. Although The Harmonisers were the first black British gospel group to perform on the mainstage at Greenbelt, the Pilgrim Records deal languished at demos only stage and The Harmonisers went their separate ways soon after the Greenbelt appearance.
Lavine went on to sing with both the COGIC Mass Choir and Bazil Meade's London Community Gospel Choir. Leaving school she worked at Lloyds Bank but keen to pursue a career in music applied to join London School Of Music. Her application was rejected. Lavine subsequently told Totally Gospel, "[They said] 'You can sing, but we don't like the lyrics and you sound too black. You should think white if you want to succeed.' I just replied, 'I won't dilute the lyrics for nobody. I am black and if I'm going to succeed it will be because the Lord will have it so, not because I had to think white.'" In 1983, Hudson moved to Boston, USA where she worshipped at the COGIC church Good Shepherd. Her church family raised money for her to enrol at the renowned Berklee College of Music.
After her education Hudson returned to England. There she became a featured singer on British TV's pioneering People Get Ready series, the first time UK TV audiences have ever been exposed to the thrilling sounds of Britain's emerging black gospel scene. Lavine was courted by Virgin Records and in 1988 the singer's debut album 'Intervention' was released. It was a stunning album. Wrote Mike Rimmer for Cross Rhythms, "The mighty Virgin Records signed her to a multi-album deal that left her with complete artistic control and it seemed that finally we might have a gospel star able to have mainstream success without compromising the message. The title cut is very much of its day and an excellent piece of perfect soulful pop with a message. Other highlights include 'Celebrate Salvation' which musically sounds like something Luther Vandross might have recorded at the time. The gospel love song 'Flesh Of My Flesh', penned by Leon Patillo, became a favourite at weddings. 'Material World' is another sparkling '80s production and the ballads 'Learning How To Love' and 'Create In Me' both hit the spot. Ultimately this is great British '80s soul married to uncompromising gospel lyrics culminating in the gorgeous 'Does Jesus Care' which closes the album."
'Intervention' didn't sell particularly well in the UK even with Virgin releasing a 12 inch dance mix of the title track. However, in the US the title song reached the R&B charts and the album climbed to number 19 on the top 40 album sales chart. But it was hardly the Platinum seller the label were hoping for. For her followup album Virgin assigned much of the production to Rhett Lawrence whose credits included Maria Carey, Bee Gees and Barbra Streisand. No expense was spared in the production of 'Between Two Worlds'. Lavine was to tell Cross Rhythms magazine, "Virgin said to me, 'Who would you most like to work with?' So I quoted all these names like Quincy Jones and all these people and I just threw in Phil Collins' name, because 'Another Day In Paradise' was out at the time and I loved that. So I said, 'Oh yeah, and Phil,' not really thinking that I would get him. To me he's up there, you know. A couple of weeks later the A&R guy came back and said, 'Phil will do it'. We got together and Phil said he had some songs left over from 'But Seriously' and I should go through them and see if there was anything I liked. . . If there wasn't he would write something for my voice. I heard 'All I Need' and fell in love with it because it was such a simple melody line. That's what I love about his stuff, and the words really meant a lot to me. . .So we used it."
Unfortunately, 'Between Two Worlds' was neither a creative or sales success. Despite Phil Collins adding his name to the package, Phillip Bailey and BeBe Winans providing some BVs, and Carl Macintosh of Loose Ends co-writing and producing one of the most commercial sounding cuts, "Hold On Through The Night", 'Between Two Worlds' didn't sell. It turned out it was the last album in Lavine's short recording career. Lavine began to struggle with lupus and effectively retired from the world of show business. Over the next few decades there were occasional reports that Lavine was singing in the choir of a London church but as the years passed on fewer and fewer were the people who remembered a voice that Mojo magazine once described as having "a pure tone and a greater gift for melismatic cadences. . . In fact, for a time, Lavine was regarded as the UK's answer to Aretha Franklin. . . Her voice possessed a great elasticity and facility to communicate emotion." Indeed it did.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.